Three ways PR firms can raise ethical standards in 2021

Author: Nitin Mantri, ICCO Presdient

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world as we know it. But one thing remains unchanged even in the face of adversity: consumer’s need for authenticity, consistency, and clarity.

Even before the world was turned upside down, consumers wanted companies to care about social, environmental, and ethical issues and take meaningful action to create a more sustainable future. Studies conducted before the pandemic have shown that the new brand loyalty is driven by a shared understanding of humanity and respect, and to survive, we must all be authentic, ethical, and human to the core.

The profound upheavals of the past year have made this clamour for authenticity a business imperative. The age of accountability is upon us and ethical behaviour is the only way forward.

Here are three ways PR firms can raise ethical standards in 2021:

Start with your own employees

2020 saw companies effectively adapt to the disruption of the pandemic by transitioning to remote work. In 2021, PR firm leaders must begin to look inward. In a recent ECI 2021 Global Business Ethics Report,“(global employee) pressure to compromise standards is the highest ever. Globally, 29% of employees reported pressure in 2020, an increase from 20% in 2019.”

This is a wake-up call. Since a hybrid work model is likely to be the new norm, this is our opportunity to reflect on our organisations’ values, discard outdated practices and rebuild a company culture that adheres to ethical obligations, starting with employee engagement, growth, and welfare.

Future-proof your organisational culture by conducting ethics trainings that will provide additional guidance on cybersecurity, maintaining confidentiality in shared workspaces, ensuring client privacy and data protection, and address common ethical dilemmas, to name a few. The leadership, and not just the HR, should conduct these trainings because the onus of ethical conduct cannot be only on employees. Leaders must ensure that they are honest in all their dealings.

Defend the truth

The erosion of trust in the media and the proliferation of social channels and online sources of news have resulted in a misinformation surge. This does not bode well for the industry. If the credibility of the media diminishes, will our stories have the same impact? Will consumers trust them? Will we as an industry be that relevant?

The good news is that we, communicators, can play a significant role in restoring people’s faith in authentic news outlets. How? By collaborating with credible media outlets for all our work, being scrupulous about the facts of any story we promote and by holding both clients and journalists accountable. And we must keep doing so even after the crisis is over. We must keep defending the truth and the people who tell it and ensure that our clients stay on the course of truth and accountability.

Use technology responsibly

Amidst the devastation, uncertainties and chaos, technology has been the only winner that is helping us function in this new world. And these technologies will become even more integral to our lives. Tools like Cloud, machine learning and artificial intelligence have become our go-to tech assets that are helping us optimise client time and budgets.

The dependence on big data technologies will also increase as economies inch their way to revival and consumer sentiment remain largely unfathomable. Being a tech optimist, I am excited about these opportunities, but we must strike a balance between innovation and ethics and choose what works best for our clients without sacrificing consumer privacy.


2021 looks to be the year when the PRCA Ethics Council will successfully demonstrate the impact of its purpose, a year in which we will focus on uprooting compromised workplace ethics and lay the foundation of a stronger industry. But let us not forget that the responsibility to maintain ethical standards extends to every single member of the PR fraternity. Till the time we walk the talk, we will not find a cure to the industry’s ethical dilemma.